Memorising characters key to mastering Chinese

Whether rote learning should still be utilised in teaching the Chinese language in schools is an age-old debate (Change the way Chinese is taught, by Mr Steven Goh; Sept 7).

Traditionalists argue that memorising is the most effective method that allows for the mastery of the language, while modern educators say rote learning is unnecessary in this age of technology.

I stand firm in the belief that rote learning is the key to being proficient in Chinese.

Chinese is a language of high complexity. It contains over 50,000 characters.

Although not all of these characters are widely used, it is still necessary to know some characters by heart before one can move on to expressing oneself in the language and excelling in examinations.

Using a dictionary to search for basic words reflects a lack of mastery of the language. It is also unthinkable to have to look up every character one will be using.

Some people feel that Chinese-English dictionaries should be allowed in exams.

Personally, I find it time-consuming to have to look up anything in a dictionary during an exam. I would rather learn the characters by heart so that I can spend more time on the nuances of the language.

Dictionaries and technology are useful only to a certain extent. They will not help in constructing coherent sentences with the right grammar and word placement.

Chinese has been in use for ages. Our ancestors have shown that the best way to use the language is to know the characters by heart.

Soong Hung Hao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline 'Memorising characters key to mastering Chinese'. Print Edition | Subscribe